Victim Of Turkish Government Crackdown Reflects On Year Since Coup Attempt

Jul 13, 2017
Originally published on July 13, 2017 5:27 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This weekend will be a year since the attempted coup against the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We're going to hear from one of the people suffering in the purge that the government has led since then. Emergency laws have been used to fire nearly 140,000 people from public jobs. More than 50,000 people have been arrested. Critics say this purge is not only aimed at those involved in the coup but at dissent and free speech, too. Here's NPR's Peter Kenyon.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Turkey's leaders say the ongoing state of emergency is vital to ensure that the country never again has to endure a night like last July 15.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: That night, renegade soldiers bombed the Parliament, stormed TV stations and occupied bridges. Two-hundred-forty-nine Turkish civilians were killed resisting the overthrow effort. Five days later came the state of emergency and the purge, sweeping up many people who appear to have had nothing to do with those dramatic events.

(CROSSTALK)

KENYON: Twenty-eight-year-old Muhammad Sevinctekin lives in a first-floor apartment in Istanbul's Pigeon Hill neighborhood far from downtown. Inside, we meet his wife, Rahime, and their 5-week-old daughter Zeynap. She was also given the name Diren by their friends. Diren means resist, and Zeynap seems to have grasped the concept.

(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)

KENYON: The apartment is small, decorated with wedding photos. They have some basic furniture thanks to a bank loan Sevinctekin took out while he was working as a high school literature teacher. But then the life he thought he was living disappeared in the blink of an eye. He woke up one morning in February to find he'd been sacked under one of the government's emergency decrees. All of a sudden, with his wife five months pregnant and both of them in debt, he says it was like he'd become invisible.

MUHAMMAD SEVINCTEKIN: (Through interpreter) All my close friends vanished, even the ones with safe civil servant jobs. They thought the firings might be contagious. That's what it's like here these days. They can just kill your career, end it like that.

KENYON: His family was stunned. They're conservative Erdogan supporters. They didn't know how to react, says Sevinctekin. He himself used to be in Erdogan voter until his views gradually shifted to the left. He remembers one friend in particular.

SEVINCTEKIN: (Through interpreter) There was this friend. We studied three or four years together to become teachers. We were so close. But after the security crackdown, he stopped calling me. It really hurt. Eventually we met up, and he explained he was afraid for his own job. I kind of understand. But when it happened, it was like a punch in the gut.

KENYON: Variations on this experience have played out in thousands and thousands of households across Turkey in the past year. The government's hunt for supporters of the failed coup quickly expanded to include Kurds, leftists, journalists and opposition politicians. Any number of things can trigger a sacking or arrest - having a commonly available encrypted messaging app on your phone, having an account at a certain bank or having signed a petition calling for an end to the long-running conflict with Kurdish militants in Turkey's southeast. Muhammad Sevinctekin says he did none of these things, but now he only survives thanks to monthly payments from his teachers' union.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: The union, with a track record of leftist activism, stages regular sit-ins to protest the sackings. On a recent afternoon, families strolled past a dozen or so union members as they tell their stories. A poster shows two union members who've been on hunger strike for more than 120 days to protest their firings. Some people avert their gaze when a reporter approaches, but 56-year-old Yasemin agrees to talk if her last name isn't used. She's sympathetic but says the government holds all the cards.

YASEMIN: (Through interpreter) We don't like to see injustice. God willing, these people can get their jobs back. But you see how the situation is in Turkey right now. So what can we do?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Singing in Turkish).

KENYON: Sometimes the union members sing old songs about resisting oppression. The melancholy tunes seem to draw people in. The government's promising a panel will review the firings. But for teacher Muhammad Sevinctekin and so many others, getting their lives back seems like a faint and far away prospect. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHRISTIAN SCOTT ATUNDE ADJUAH'S "DESIRE AND THE BURNING GIRL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.